Paper - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

The Cuban Missile Crisis: Debatable Issues, Instructive Lessons

  • Viktor I. Yesin
| October 16, 2013

By Victor Yesin

Foreword by Graham Allison and Andrei Kokoshin



American political scientists Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow rightly note in their book Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis that the Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC) is a defining event of the nuclear century and the most dangerous moment in recorded history.

This Russian-language edition of the book was published under the title The Essence of Decision as Exemplified by Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and 6th Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Dr. Andrei Kokoshin wrote a preface to this Russian edition. In this preface, Kokoshin similarly argued that the crisis was the “most dangerous in the history of the Cold War when the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, came very close to a full-scale war involving nuclear weapons.”

This crisis has been evaluated multiple times. Some of the most recent evaluations were given in 2012 in commemoration of the crisis’s 50th anniversary. However, experts on the CMC have yet to reach consensus on a number of questions related to the crisis. Furthermore, academics and commentators have missed some of the key lessons from the crisis. These issues were raised at a seminar on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis that was organized by the Belfer Center for Science of International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School and chaired by director of this center, Professor Graham Allison, on September 26, 2012. They were also debated at the “Long Echo of the Missile Crisis” roundtable sponsored by Moscow State University’s Faculty of World Politics and the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for International Security Studies on November 14, 2012. Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Andrei Kokoshin chaired that roundtable. Dr. Kokoshin also attended the Harvard Cuban Missile Crisis conference in September 2012.

With these discussions in mind, the author would like to offer his interpretation of the answers to the most important of the CMC-related questions that remain open. He would also like to outline a number of instructive lessons of the 1962 crisis.

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For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Yesin, Viktor I.. “The Cuban Missile Crisis: Debatable Issues, Instructive Lessons.” Paper, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, October 16, 2013.

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